Session 91 is being difficult – but absolutely nothing plot-critical happened in it, so I’ll put it up when I come up with a narrative that satisfies me.
While everyone had been busy, some reports had started to come in…
Death had been willingly cooperating with his Church, House, and Military debriefers – but the most valuable bits were not the detailed information on his abilities and those of War, and the more general information about Famine and Plague, or even the information on what realms were being used as staging areas and resource centers – valuable though that was. The fact that War had “recently” been replaced was interesting, as was the fact that Famine and Plague both predated Death’s arrival on the team – or at least the arrival of particular version of Death.
Famine seemed to be the leader of the group, and was apparently the most powerful. He was the one that was setting up the barriers. (They had gotten some clues to the mechanics of the barrier, but the researchers were still busy coming up with hypothesis there). Famine might have been involved in setting up the disaster realms, but most of those apparently predated Death’s arrival.
Most interestingly, Merlin had appeared to brief the group on several occasions, although he often seemed to be relaying orders. Merlin seemed to be an operator on the same level as Famine.
Well, he’d already been in the “heavily suspect” category, but it was nice to have a definite link.
Unfortunately, it also meant that there was a more-or-less established procedure for replacing a fallen horseman. Drat it.
The search for currently unknown worlds in danger from the ring-nova shockwave had mostly come down to sky-survey searches, asking the Ourathan robots, and then running probes and divinations out as quickly as possible. Fortunately, the Ring Nova had been at the fringes of the Terrain Exploration Sphere, and that was only a few hundred light years out. By galactic standards, it was almost next door…
It looked like there were at least five inhabited worlds in danger… Four human worlds colonized via slowship as the systems were without fast jump points. Another one that appeared to be inhabited by dolphins (how had they managed that?). The robots had, thus far, overlooked the systems that were not connected to the jump point network – or had despatched takeover groups though normal space and simply hadn’t mentioned it. Why would they? They had somehow seemed a little pleased to find that humans were inquiring about rescuing any aliens that they’d imperiled with their antics, but that might just be wishful thinking. Still, they had a galaxy to draw on and lots of experience. They’d probably dealt with this sort of situation lots of times before.
Ryan had apparently noticed the world in most immediate peril, and had set up a gate – but there hadn’t been any follow-through since then and the place only had a month left.
The next world after that had six and a half months, then 3 years, 17 years, and 18 years. After that it looked to be fairly empty space – save for robot territory.
Kevin promptly put a major priority on the worlds with only months left. If the six-month one hadn’t been in enough to get a gate open to them, he was going to have to try something drastic.
The meme countermeasure research appeared to be going well. They weren’t anywhere near 100% effective; the more close-minded the individual, the better the immunity. Attention disorders also appeared to grant limited resistance; people with that kind of trouble were only affected after repeated exposures… The memes mostly worked via visual stimuli, although there were some audio connections – and introducing a slight mismatch in the synchronization of audio and video feeds looked to do quite well. That could be compensated for of course in the setup of the meme, but randomly varying the intervals provided considerably protection… Testing was currently underway to determine if a strong conviction – or faith – had any effect on infection rates or symptoms.
The Rosary of Memory search engine project was well underway. The Rosary did indeed appear to store a great deal of memories on prior lives of souls – and entries on other souls could be accessed by probing the social connections between them from some known starting point. Cataloguing these connections had been one of the biggest time consumers so far – although family tree and historical data from Core and elsewhere had been of great assistance. Still, the social space being explored was very large and multifaceted indeed, and the connection-chains were very indirect in some cases. Small groups that did not survive might take a very long time to trace, since it would – or at least could – mean exploring back to the origin of the species and tracing back up every branch from there again.
The side-project on mapping the distribution of Souls in the Manifold had been tricky, but had actually revealed some results; it did indeed appear – as expected – that most souls originated in Core or were born to souls that were recently from Core. Major realms in the Manifold typically looked to have been populated in waves, depending on cultural and geographic origins. The various religious “Afterlife Realms” were some of the biggest ones, although realms based on supposed “ideal societies” had also seen great immigrations… Places like the One China realm, the Christian Holy Land, the Aryan Empire, and such had all seen waves of souls enter them at one time.
There was also evidence that a major reshuffling had happened at least twice, and possibly more often than that. As realms were forgotten in the Core, their stability became dependent on local minds, and their development went their own ways. With increasing trade, changing cultures, and the passing of time, realms had interacted, transformed, merged, and split. The pattern seemed to be near-stability until – abruptly – some critical point was passed, the people of the realms came to believe that things were changing or nearing some crisis, and a wave of shifts and changes would ripple through great stretches of interlocked worlds, following in the wake of new beliefs, new faiths, and other cultural shifts.
It had never before involved the Core of course – there simply hadn’t been enough quantum links, exotic energy transfers, and mental pressure to allow direct movement in and out of Core at those times – but the times were hard to pin down relative to core. After all, in many cases, one of the major predisposing factors was a realm being forgotten there – and, for a lot of realms based on travelers tales, legends, and popular beliefs, that meant that all records of the realms involved had been lost with the cultures that had spawned them.
The Neodolphins had apparently been pooling their credits, investing in trust funds and other institutions out in the Manifold – mostly through intermediaries – and using the resulting income to both increase their financial base and to make limited investments in research, buy special equipment, and arrange genetic deprogramming for members of their species.
Kevin made a note to make sure that “removing obedience-programming genetics” was one of the cheaper services being offered to the Neodolphins – although they didn’t seem in too big a rush on the subject. Of course, staying out to sea mostly kept them away from human orders in any case.
While the Thralls out scouting had already located routes through to the Great Lakes Trade Colonies and Lleogyr, the former was via a sailing expedition through arctic waters, and the latter was via a series of plague and monster infested countrysides. A few realms appeared to have been almost totally depopulated. The vast majority were currently intact, but were sealed off from gateways – whether naturally or by the action of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Marty was a bit annoyed at that; they’d sent some Thralls to recover his ship – but they were bringing it back the long way to avoid all the battles, and that might take a week or two longer. Of course, his starship was still parked on Ealor from after that trip to the original Jedi Academy, and they needed to stop in there anyway…
In Core, the addition of some “Rights” to Kevin’s contract was greatly improving the reactions of the computers and focus groups… The Computers had been marginally approving in any case, at least for youngsters who seemed likely to get into trouble otherwise – but this version was a considerable improvement from their point of view.
Kevin was considering that at well… He’d chiefly thrown in the minimal-care guarantees, being allowed to dispatch messages home, some allowance for time off (during which they could visit home or hang out in Kadia or such if they liked), and a guarantee that they wouldn’t be gratuitously tortured or anything – but he could also throw in some monetary credit, quite a lot of health-care – not that they need it under any normal circumstances and the resurrection benefits were automatically a part of the package anyway, the bonus for being killed in the line of duty, a formal guarantee of eventual release to back the inherent one, residence and housing rights in Kadia, with the residential credits and access to the various shopping, training, recreational and enhancement options and facilities in their free time.
He wouldn’t have thought it necessary to say most of that. Would doing anything else really be likely to get the best possible service out of them?
On the Vekxin front, Vekxin had been stripped of all his followers – but had been holding off his besiegers by firing positive energy blasts towards them. The intensity and frequency had been slowly dropping however, and it looked like he’d deplete his reserves within the next few days. The Thralls on that operation had been considering making multiple suicide attacks in order drain his reserves even faster or to possibly pull off a capture – but the house operative teams were had preferred a more cautious approach, and were in charge.
Arxus had made a full recovery, although he had complained of receiving visions from inside whatever lab he was pulled from for some time. The visions had dropped in frequency however, and last one he’d had had been three days ago. He might well be turning into two separate entities; nexi could merge and split easily enough… He’d been wanting to get involved in the search and rescue operations – although hearing about the debacle going on in the Linear Realms had thrown him into a fit and given him a strong urge to go syndicate hunting.
Most of his visions had been of the same elderly mage – first of the man running experiments again, then of the old guy getting puzzled and throwing fits, then starting up a new series of experiments focusing more on mental things. The last vision had includeed what appeared to be a training exercise of some sort…
Had the mage realized that – with a second self to act as a power outlet – pouring more energy into Arxus was of little use?